American Oceans

Nearly 1000 Manatees Gather At Florida Park Setting New Record

a gathering of manatees in a spring in florida

In late January, Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida, witnessed a remarkable clustering of manatees, as a staggering 932 individuals sought shelter in its warm waters, setting a new high in seasonal congregation numbers. This count notably exceeded the previous record by a significant margin, previously set at 736.

Notable Figures and Facts:

  • Record Count: 932 manatees on January 21, 2024
  • Previous Record: 736 manatees on January 1
  • Location: Blue Spring State Park, Orange City, Florida
  • Water Temperature: A steady 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round

As the cooler season brings a dip in water temperatures, manatees migrate to sources of warmer water to prevent cold stress. Guidelines by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission indicate that manatees require waters typically warmer than 68 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive during winter, leading them to places like natural springs and power plant discharges.

Critical Manatee Habits and Habitat:

  • Manatees, also known as sea cows, are largely herbivorous marine mammals.
  • They prefer shallow waters and often surface, making them vulnerable to vessel strikes.
  • Dedicated manatee protection zones exist to mitigate risks from boating activities.
  • Warm-water sites are crucial for their survival, especially during colder months.

Significance of Warm-Water Refuges:

Given an ongoing mortality event impacting manatees since 2020, primarily along the East Coast, the availability of warm-water refuges is vital. Deteriorating water quality and the loss of seagrass beds have been contributing to the nutritional stress and subsequent deaths of these creatures. The constant 72-degree waters of Blue Spring offer a sanctuary from these harsh conditions.

Historical Perspective:

  • Blue Spring’s manatee population in the 1970s was around 36.
  • Dramatic growth witnessed with more recent records showing a notable increase in numbers.
  • The Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, is cataloged as vulnerable, approaching endangered status.

These marine mammals face multiple threats, including habitat loss, extreme weather, and algal blooms adversely affecting their primary food sources. Taking into consideration the average mass of these animals, the collective weight at Blue Spring on this record-breaking day was over 400 tons, underlining the immense scale of this gathering.

Observation Efforts:

  • Conducted by park staff, careful counts ensure accuracy of manatee numbers.
  • Sightings offer both an awe-inspiring spectacle and valuable data for conservation.

The substantial assemblage has since reduced, with counts returning to more typical levels. Nevertheless, the event underlines the park’s importance as a haven for manatees. Park manager Dustin Allen conveyed the perennial wonderment of witnessing these gentle giants, regardless of their numbers, as they seek respite in the park’s regulated warmth.

Add comment